2004-01-23 - Textbook Cases
Prayers in the Bible, Part 3
In America, we have a phrase for typical examples, "textbook cases." Tonight we will look at "textbook cases" of "how to do prayer right" and "how to do prayer wrongly."
Luke 18:9-14 (NASB) And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
In the prayer of the Pharisee, the irony is that he didn't even realize his need of repentance. He thought he, of all people, was righteous. After all, he followed all the rules, went by the book, was a "goody two-shoes." (And believe me, I have no problems with those, as I am one, and I wear the badge proudly!) Fast forward to 2004. He or she might be thinking "hey I go to church, I serve on (such and such committee), I give money to the church, I've never committed a serious crime" etc.
But he was mired in spiritual poverty. The Pharisee needed God's grace and forgiveness, but in his smug blindness, he didn't understand that. His prayer was unacceptable to God, for he was unrepentant.
In contrast, join me with meditating on the prayer that delights the heart of God. The tax collector didn't try to justify himself. He didn't rationalize his sins (I beat up my wife because she made me mad. I stole from the company because they don't pay me enough. I was unfaithful because my spouse didn't make me happy. I stole because people mistreated me because of my background. And he didn't try to impress God with his eloquence or lengthy prayers.
Rather, his prayer contains two simple elements:
He see himself as he is, a sinner - and admits it to God.He sees what he needs, God's mercy - and asks for it.
And he received exactly what he sought. I think this is the most beautiful prayer in the Bible. I challenge you (and myself) to emulate the tax collector in our prayers, in honesty and repentance.